Sunday, 18 November 2007

Wayne Kramer Interview

Back on 25th May, 2007 I had the great pleasure of interviewing one of rock’s true gentlemen, Wayne Kramer of MC5. This was for a Q&A piece to go with a review of MC5 manager John Sinclair’s book Guitar Army, recently reissued by Process Press – a fine collection of agit-prop writings from the 60s. The chat with Wayne was so fascinating that I’m publishing the remaining text here, sans the material used for Record Collector. If you want to read the rest, and the review of Guitar Army you’ll need to look out the back issue in question but, even though it’s a bit off-topic for this blog, here’s the rest.

IA: Looking back, what was driving the revolutionary fever between music and social change?

WK: When I was young I believed I knew everything and would live forever, so that enthusiasm to jump in there and make it better comes with being young.

IA: Music isn’t talking about Iraq now in the same way as you guys would have talked about Vietnam though…

WK: They’d [the authorities] learned the lesson in Vietnam of a free press, and they’re determined not to let that happen again. Reporters had been allowed to go wherever they wanted to go and report the war as they saw it. That’s not allowed any longer. All the American military operations, Grenada, Panama, had controlled media coverage. So they’ve learned how to clamp down information and pervert the constitution of the United States and no one does it better than the Bush administration. They’re absolute masters of at least the attempt to control the media.

The Internet has become the underground news service of today. Where we used to have underground newspapers, today we have the Internet and news does get out. We have blogs and internet news reports do in fact disseminate the truth. There was a story of a woman stoned to death in Iraq for having a boyfriend of a different faith, a different God. Those kinds of stories they wouldn’t want to come out, but they do because someone had a cell phone and filmed a mob stoning her to death. So, this is the nature of the struggle for civilisation, there’s no one great victory. You fight and loose, fight and loose, and then you win one. Everything that’s ever happened, in terms of social justice issues, happened from the bottom up, never by government, congressmen or laws. It’s people with cell phones, with video cameras, filming the LAPD beating Rodney King. The civil rights movement came from the streets, up. The end of apartheid, the end of the Berlin Wall came from the streets up, not from the top down.

I’m so proud of Jimmy Carter coming out and saying that the Bush administration is the worst administration in the history of the United States government. Jimmy stepped up, Jimmy manned up!

IA: Whatever happened to rock music’s passion for politics and change?

WK: It’s there [references Dixie Chicks, Serj Tankian and Axis of Justice as examples] but, you’re right, there’s no agreement amongst the new generation about the direction of the country. If you polled young people today, I’m sure half of them would think the war in Iraq was a good thing. They’re ethically and politically ignorant. I don’t know what happened to young people [laughs]. I put some blame at the door of the artists because it’s the artist’s job to carry a message and tell the truth about the world around them. When Picasso painted Guernica, it was an outrage to the government that he’d depicted the outrages and madness of war. That’s the artist job, some of us have to be the Paul Revere riding through the town saying ‘the fascists are coming.’ And I put some of it at the door of the news media who toe the party line of the administration and are afraid to step up and question war criminals like Bush, who’s a criminal based on the tenants of the Geneva Convention.

Rock ‘n’ roll itself is political in its passion and its fiery quest for a voice for young people, of breaking through the status quo. That’s what every generation’s rock ‘n’ roll does. It’s what Elvis did to the big band era and that kind of syrupy rock ‘n’ roll of the 50s, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry … this white boy from the South broke-out with this raw sexuality. It’s what happened with the first wave of the British invasion, that whole new culture and then the 60s generation where the music reflected the culture and the time. And today, with Hip Hop which is their voice which has a political component almost like a Bertolt Brecht sort of thing … the underclass screaming for recognition and using the symbols of the upperclass as batons and so there’s some political consciousness in that world. But there’s also a kind of ambivalence that gets us into trouble like we are now.

I don’t think a rock band can charge the world, just like a movie or a book. But all those things have a role in consciousness raising and information dissemination. The songs are the places where we meet, those are our town meetings, our community meetings and the banners that we wave and the symbols of how we feel about things. Could there be more bands taking a bigger role in contributing to the world around them? Sure, absolutely. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, but if they just want to sing about cars and girls, that’s okay with me as well … I’ve no quarrel with them!

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